Tag Archives: coast path

The hills are alive with the sound of …… bees!

The fishing port of Brixham lies at the southern end of Torbay in South Devon. Last week, we walked along Brixham’s minor roads and quiet residential streets to reach a green lane leading away from the town and towards the coast path. The green lanes in Devon form a network of ancient tracks and here the green canopy, the high banks and the exposed bedrock kept us cool before we headed up hill over fields. As we climbed, we were rewarded with ever improving views over the entire panorama of Torbay. Here is a view towards Torquay with Brixham in the foreground.

Torbay from Brixham

The wide curve of the bay is certainly spectacular especially when the sun shines and if you imagine the bay without the scar of housing then you can see why visitors to Torbay in the late 18th century might have been reminded of Italy. One such visitor enthused: “It is not England but a bit of sunny Italy taken bodily from its rugged coast and placed here amid the green places and the pleasant pastoral lanes of beautiful Devon”. Even nowadays, the red valerian found in the summer all over this part of Devon manages to create some feeling of the Mediterranean although the modern, rather unsympathetic development of Torbay detracts.

Red Valerian
Red Valerian lining the walls in the village of Dittisham

Another picture below shows the fields above Brixham and if you look carefully at the surface of the field in the foreground, it appears to be covered with a white sheen. This is in fact white clover mixed with buttercups and other wild flowers.

Field above Brixham

We paused here to take in the view and to catch our breath on this warm day. It was very quiet but gradually we became aware of a low level hum. It took a while to realise what was causing this but when we looked more closely we could see that the field was full of bees, both honeybees and bumblebees; wherever we looked there were bees enjoying the clover. All our attempts to photograph the bees failed but here is a close-up of the clover.

White Clover
White Clover

Emily Heath has recently talked about how honeybees and bumblebees like white clover on her AdventuresinBeeland Blog.

The noise we heard, let’s call it a “midsummer hum”, took me back to my first year at senior school when we read a book, Bevis by Richard Jeffries. This book, written in 1882, tells the story of two boys, Bevis and his friend Mark, and their adventures. These include mock battles with other children, rigging a boat and sailing to an island. At one point, the boys remark that the only sound they can hear is the “midsummer hum”. I can’t now imagine why this book was chosen for us to read; perhaps my English teacher thought it would capture the imagination of a class of eleven year old boys. The story also has clear parallels with the Swallows and Amazons books of Arthur Ransome, which were quite popular at the time. I remember not liking the book (Bevis) but for some reason, the idea of a “midsummer hum” has stayed with me all these years.

[The photos were taken by Hazel Strange]

Guardian Travel Writing Competition

The late September weather here in Devon was so glorious that I was moved to write a piece for the Guardian Travel Writing Competition.  They didn’t select it but I still like it and I have reproduced it below. I know it’s not science writing but I enjoyed doing it and any comments will be gratefully received!  Here it is:


Two pleasures at the coast

I look away, embarrassed. I had been absent-mindedly watching a man across the grassy car park peeling off his wet suit to reveal, well, no swimming costume!  I look elsewhere: several VW camper vans, two ageing Minis and just arriving, a surfboard on top of an ancient black Morris Minor.  Dotted around are surfers in various states of dress and undress getting ready for the waves.  We are at Bantham Beach in South Devon and this is pure theatre.   It’s an unseasonably warm, very sunny, late September day and Hazel and I have taken a day out to indulge two pleasures.

Our first pleasure is the Coast Path.  Suitably booted, we head up the path beside the beach but we are stopped in our tracks by the first sight of the sea.  Picked out by the sun is an ever-changing pattern of intersecting white arcs as semi-circular waves process up the beach towards, but never reaching, the low dunes.  In the waves we see black dots; for a moment we imagine them as cavorting seals but these are in fact the surfers.  The unlikely backdrop to this scene is the green bulk of Burgh Island with its white wedding cake of a hotel perched on the tip, more theatre!

On the coast path at this time of year there are few flowers; one or two Sea Pinks remind us of the loud drifts of these flowers decorating the cliffs earlier in the year.  Here and there, the yellow and white daisy-like flowers of Sea Mayweed seem to be celebrating the Indian summer with us.  The coast path now skirts the golf course.  Large signs warn golfers ambiguously,  “You are driving near a public footpath”, but they do respect our safety.  Our destination is Thurlestone, named after the pierced or “thirled” stone forming a natural arch just offshore.  As we walk, the great stone arch emerges through the haze surrounded by shimmering patterns on the sea created by the low autumn sun. 

After a brief sandwich stop on the cliff overlooking the arch, we head back to Bantham for our second pleasure, the sea.  Now it’s our turn to get those wet suits on and we pick up our body boards and head through the dunes towards the beach.  It’s low tide so we have a long walk but the sea beckons invitingly and the suns warms us.  The water is refreshing but not cold; the rising tide gives strong surf and we are rewarded with a continuous succession of waves.  This is the best surf we have had this year, almost every ride is good and sometimes two waves combine to give an unexpected acceleration.  It’s so exhilarating and we share knowing smiles with other board riders.  Around me, people are literally frolicking in the sea and I get a feeling of pure pleasure.  Later as we struggle out of our wet suits in the warm sunshine, Hazel sums it up, “That was fab”.